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What makes a family?

Categories: Missing Parent, Tentative Steps


My son and I arrive back at our home as early dusk settles into the trees: the wind is whirling through winter-thinned trees and white lights spackle through the leaves of the yards of our neighbors. I’ve been here only a year and a half, but I’m already converted to the enviro-conscious lifestyle of the Pacific Northwest: I carry a re-usable bag filled with ripe tomatoes-on-the-vine, fresh garlic, yellow onions, and whole pepper: tonight I’m making roasted tomato soup.  I’m wearing yoga pants and a faux-fur lined hoodie, a warm cap pulled low over my hair.  My son is three: suddenly he can undo his own seatbelt, open the car door and leap out joyfully, terrifyingly.

“Unky!” he yells, sprinting in the direction of my 29-year-old brother, who is draping lights across a rhododendron bush in the house we have bought together: a joint venture born of being in places we Never Expected We’d Be, at this time in our lives.

“Hey bud!” says my brother, stopping to embrace my blond whirlwind in a hug,”Hey, I’m putting lights up in the tree.  You wanna help?”

My three-year-old son stands back and stares, feeding mini-lights to my younger brother, his hands encased in wooly gloves and a baseball hat pulled low over his eyes. He suddenly looks like he’s 10.

His Dad lives here now, but this weekend he’s back visiting friends in the City where we used to live.  In the meantime,  my son is surrounded in so much love, he doesn’t notice.  He’s got my Mom, his Nanny, his playmate and perpetual cheerleader.  He’s got my Dad, who’s lost all his Gruff and Intimidation exclusively for his only grandchild.  My son is also best pals with my brother, who is the consummate cool Dude and exactly the kind of Unky every little boy wants: a snowboarding, dirt-biking, warm-hearted, role model.  And - if Nolan had his way, he’s steal my brother’s girlfriend out from under his nose: he loves hanging out with Alex and her long blonde hair and green-blue eyes, her sisterly hand and her always accommodating vibe.


I stood outside my car, clutching my bag of produce and French bread, watching my brother and my son interact.

I spent so many months aching over the loss of Nolan’s father in our lives.  I realize: it wasn’t him, so much, it was the thought of “Family” that I mourned.  A mom, a dad, a child, in one house.

But those ingredients don’t make a family.  It’s love, and devotion, and sacrifice, and blood - and a lot of compassion.

My family is different from what I envisioned, but it’s every bit as good.  With white likes twinkling and People Who Love Him abounding at every turn, I am confident that my little boy is lacking nothing, this Christmas.  This Christmas, there is no guilt.  This piecemeal, loving family, is every bit the real thing.

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14 comments so far...

  • This really sums it up : ” It’s love, and devotion, and sacrifice, and blood - and a lot of compassion.”
    And I think as long as kids have at least one strong male and one strong female role model they do well. It’s a father like role model that’s important not necessarily the bio dad. And I’m saying this as a single Mum who’s ex keeps letting down my Daughter. She stayed with me this weekend, as he couldn’t ‘manage’ to get a car seat. We talked about what had happened and she was fine. She has enough other people in her life who love and put her needs before their own that her Dad letting her down wasn’t that big a deal.
    As long as they’ve one person they know loves them no matter what. That’s their family - anything extra is a bonus after that.

    Joanne  |  December 15th, 2008 at 7:08 am

  • He is blessed to have you, and you him.

    Your piecemeal family sounds perfect.

    joyce  |  December 15th, 2008 at 7:49 am

  • I think your blogs are wonderful. You are a terrific writer and some of your posts seem like they were written directly from my head and heart. I am glad that you are in a good place, hopefully I will get there one day myself. Happy Holidays!

    Kathy  |  December 15th, 2008 at 2:14 pm

  • This was lovely to read.

    As Joyce said, your family sounds perfect.

    Cari  |  December 15th, 2008 at 3:28 pm

  • Thank you guys. This one came from the heart.

    Kristin D  |  December 15th, 2008 at 3:54 pm

  • I whole heartedly agree Kristin. When I was 13 and my sister was 22 she got pregnant. The result, my nephew, was one of the best things that happened to our family. We still say that. His father, whom I call The Sperm Donor, was a complete dud and my sister didn’t stay with him long but we are thankful for his one contribution to society. :) My nephew is now 19 and lives in an apartment a block away from me (by his design). Tonight he was over picking up a care package from his Mum and hanging out with me and my daughter. All around I would say he is one loved kid.

    melanie  |  December 15th, 2008 at 9:21 pm

  • This is very well written. Thank you for sharing!

    Lizzybee  |  December 16th, 2008 at 8:13 am

  • Perfectly said. As always.

    Jess  |  December 16th, 2008 at 12:31 pm

  • I read your blog regularly but never comment. This article however almost had me in tears and I am not a crier. I love that you have found peace with your life and you are right… Nolan has a wonderful family filled with love!

    Amber  |  December 16th, 2008 at 12:43 pm

  • I’m so glad you wrote this. I feel the guilt every hour of every day. I had a friend tell me that it never goes away. This post made me feel a whole lot better.

    Thank you and Happy Holidays to you and your family!

    Christine  |  December 16th, 2008 at 12:54 pm

  • i’ve gone to write this comment on about every post i’ve read of yours lately, but for some reason have never been able to click “submit.”

    i really really REALLY appreciate you writing your experiences as a single mom. i have recently become one, and with every post of yours i find common ground in my fears, hurt, anger, frustration, happiness, etc., etc…

    my eyes started filling with tears when i got to the last section of this post. lately i’ve been mourning the loss of my “family,” of my old life, of my old routines and traditions, despite all of the good that surrounds my little boy and i right now. to be able to read that someone else has had those same aches and heart pains is comforting. and encouraging. so thanks for sharing. happy holidays.

    sarah  |  December 16th, 2008 at 5:06 pm

  • Great post. This is so my family. My brother and I share a home and I have been a surrogate Mom to my niece since she lost her Mom at birth. She is 5 now. A Family truly is what you make it.

    Love to you and yours this Holiday season. Hugs!

    laura  |  December 16th, 2008 at 10:10 pm

  • A beautifully written entry, Kristin. The very reason I keep returning to your blog. Your little N has a wonderful network of loving people and you’re doing a stellar job of raising a warm, generous man. Happy holidays!

    Miriam  |  December 17th, 2008 at 5:34 pm

  • That was beautiful, and so true.

    I, too, had this realization recently. It’s not my ex that I miss, it’s the family moments. And then I remind myself that I do have a family, we’re just shaped differently.

    single mom with tiny tot  |  December 19th, 2008 at 9:16 pm